Conceal baby’s sex due to Asian abortion trend: CMAJ editorial

A Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial is calling for doctors who do prenatal ultrasounds to conceal the sex of the fetus until 30 weeks, to help stem the number of gender-related abortions in Canada's Asian community. Photograph by: Thinkstock,

By Derek Abma and Robert Hiltz, Postmedia News

An editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal is calling for doctors performing prenatal ultrasounds to conceal the sex of the baby for the first 30 weeks, to avoid a trend of “female feticide” in the Asian community.

“Female feticide happens in India and China by the millions, but it also happens in North America in numbers large enough to distort the male-to-female ratio in some ethnic groups,” said the editorial by interim editor-in-chief Dr. Rajendra Kale.

“A woman has the right to medical information about herself . . . (but) the sex of the fetus is medically irrelevant information — except when managing rare sex-linked illnesses — and does not affect care.

“The solution is to postpone the disclosure of medically irrelevant information to women until after about 30 weeks of pregnancy.”

A normal, full-term pregnancy is about 40 weeks, or nine months.

Called Canada “a haven for parents who would terminate female fetuses in favour of having sons,” the editorial cited China, India, Vietnam, the Philippines and Korea as sources of immigrants who practise female feticide.

In an interview, Kale said 30 weeks was picked as an approximate time to start providing mothers information on their fetus’s sex, because after that it would be difficult for anyone to get an abortion without good medical reason for doing so.

“No (physician) in Canada would really do an unquestioned abortion after 30 weeks,” he said, noting that there is a significant chance of having a live birth at that point.

The editorial notes that evidence points to the practice of gender-related abortion happening in Canada, including a 2009 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research that shows a higher-than-normal probability of Asian immigrants here having sons in subsequent births if their first child was a girl.

“It’s a small problem in Canada compared to India and China for sure, but it’s localized to certain ethnic groups (in Canada),” said Kale, who was born and raised in India.

The editorial highlights a recent U.S. study involving a small sample of 65 women of Indian descent. Forty per cent of these women at some point had aborted a female fetus, while 89 per cent of those who knew they were pregnant with a girl were seeking an abortion.

Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice-president of the pro-life group REAL Women Canada, said she was fully in favour of the initiative.

“To prohibit that is certainly a move in the right direction, so people won’t know the gender and won’t destroy the child because of its gender,” Landolt said.

She said that just because the sex of the child can be determined, it doesn’t mean that it should be.

“(The parents) don’t have a right to know. The purpose of the ultrasound is to determine the state of health of the child and try to correct some problem in utero,” Landolt said. “It doesn’t mean that because you have an ultrasound that you have a right to know.”

Asked if he expected his editorial to garner a negative reaction from pro-choice and women’s rights advocates, Kale replied that female feticide is “the worst form of discrimination against women. . . . They’re saying (to women), ‘we don’t want you,’ and that’s extreme.”

The Canadian Medical Association notes that editorial viewpoints are not necessarily those of the association.

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